When Nico Rosberg headed for the exit door of Brackley with his Drivers’ Championship trophy in hand, speculation regarding his replacement took the F1 world by storm. For quite some time now, it has seemed a two-horse race between Williams star Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes’ very own protege, Pascal Wehrlein.
Bottas became the front-runner in mid-December and with Wehrlein now confirmed at Sauber for 2017, the Finn seems to have edged the German out of F1’s most sought-after seat.
With all talk centering around Mercedes, one element of the story that seems to have been overlooked thus far is the impact the signing will have on Sauber. Wehrlein’s move to Hinwil will have some fascinating consequences, not least what it means for Marcus Ericsson’s career.
The Swede is about to enter his fourth season in the sport and has been solid, if far from spectacular, during his stay. In his defense, his anonymity in 2014 was much more a product of Caterham’s imminent doom rather than a reflection of Ericsson’s speed. His two years at Sauber have seen him buried in midfield obscurity, again, suspected to be more down to car performance than a lack of talent.
The only measure of a driver in Ericsson’s position is his performances against his teammate. Battling against Felipe Nasr for the past two seasons, Marcus has fared relatively well, particularly during the latter stages of the 2016 campaign. Sure, it was Nasr whose points in Brazil secured tenth place in the Constructors for the team, yet Ericsson’s drive to 11th in Mexico was just as special, albeit not rewarded.
Why then, am I rabbiting on about Marcus Ericsson on Pascal Wehrlein’s big day. Well, neither Kamui Kobayashi, (Ericsson’s teammate in 2014,) nor Felipe Nasr have been touted as having the outstanding potential that Wehrlein has. If Ericsson can out-perform the heir to a Mercedes drive over the course of the next season, his stock will rise significantly.
Despite Wehrlein’s tender age, the Mercedes badge on his overalls and DTM Championship Trophy on his mantlepiece means that we finally have a more meaningful yardstick to judge Ericsson by.
There is an enormous amount of attention on Wehrlein and as a result, Ericsson will now experience similar scrutiny. He’s been flying somewhat under the radar thus far, but 2017 will be a make or break year for the Swede.